The Bruins wrapped up the regular season on Sunday with a 3-2 loss to New Jersey, and though they obviously would have liked to head home with a win, they didn’t have much to hang their heads about, given the big picture.
Boston will head into the 2013-14 postseason as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and in possession of the Presidents' Trophy, with the best record in the league. At 54-19-9, they are guaranteed home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
“It's really exciting, now that it's finally over, and playoffs is when the real fun starts,” said defenseman Dougie Hamilton. “Just to get through these last couple of games - it was tough when you were looking forward to the playoffs and you know what's coming.”
The B’s hit the ice on Sunday with several unfamiliar faces in the lineup, as seven of Boston's regulars stayed home for this road trip. Four of them — David Krejci, Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara — were healthy scratches, while Patrice Bergeron (undisclosed), Chris Kelly (back, day-to-day) and Daniel Paille (undisclosed, day-to-day) also did not make the trip.
Prior to the game, Julien said Bergeron is “fine” and is dealing with a “very minor” issue. He exited early from Saturday’s win over Buffalo, as did Paille, who was helped off the ice after taking a hard hit from Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe in the third period. Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said Paille is day-to-day but is feeling good.
“He's doing really well today,” Julien said before the matchup against New Jersey. “We got some good news today. He's feeling great, so it's just about going at it day-to-day here, but certainly real positive news.”
Kelly has been out of the lineup with a back injury since playing Minnesota on April 8 and is currently day-to-day.
In their stead, the B’s called up forwards Alexander Khokhlachev, Craig Cunningham, Justin Florek and Matt Lindblad. Khokhlachev became the eighth player to make his NHL debut with the Bruins this season.
“I think the goal tonight was to have a good compete level, which I think we had, and a decent showing -- and give those guys an opportunity to play. We did all of the above,” Julien said. “So I'm certainly not disappointed, except that we always hope to come out of here with a winning outcome, versus a losing one.”
“Khokhlachev, who we hadn't seen yet this year, as I mentioned before the game -- he competes really hard, he gets his nose dirty everywhere, he makes things happen, and you know, he's battling hard on those draws, so that was a good thing to see.”
Given all of the personnel changes, the B’s got off to a bit of a slow start on Sunday, and the Devils capitalized. They struck first in the midst of a first-period 4-on-4, when Marek Zidlicky beat Chad Johnson on a wraparound.
But with just 30 seconds left in the frame, the B's found themselves on a power play, and Loui Eriksson struck for his 10th goal of the season, taking a one-touch pass from Carl Soderberg.
Brad Marchand also assisted on the play. He tallied two power play points on the day, despite heading into Sunday's game without any points on the man-advantage this season.
“That first one, he put it right on my tape, and then the second one, the puck was just laying there," Marchand said. "So obviously, you want to take advantage of any opportunity, and it was nice to be out there [on the power play].”
Julien added, “He knows he's always been one of the guys that if somebody's out, we could slide him in there. And you know, we looked at even last year's stats on the power play — most of his goals will always come five-on-five, or points, so again, we're happy with the power play we have and we're happy with the guys that can do a job there like he did tonight.”
After a scoreless second period, Travis Zajac deflected Jaromir Jagr’s centering pass past Johnson. About two minutes later, with Gregory Campbell in the box for tripping, Zidlicky extended the lead to 3-2 with his second goal of the day, a rocket from the left circle.
Boston pulled within one as Marchand struck on the power play with 16 seconds remaining in the game, but the Devils pulled out the victory — a particularly special one for them, given the fact that it could end up being goaltender Martin Brodeur’s last in New Jersey.
“Their goaltender, it was important for him to come out of here with a win, so they were going to play hard for him,” Julien said. “So we had a tough opponent tonight and for the most part, I think we handled it okay.”
Johnson added, “He's one of the best, and probably the best goalie of all time, so to be able to get the start here tonight was something special and something I'll always remember.”
Johnson finished the day with 28 saves on 31 shots, suffering his first regulation loss since December 28.
For a couple of weeks now, many of the B’s have lamented that that they wished the playoffs started tomorrow. Now, at last, the time has come to wipe the slate clean and start preparing for Detroit, a team that took three of four games from Boston during the regular season.
“I don't think they've performed to their standards of their team this year — I think their lineup is a lot better than where they finished,” Marchand said. “[It seems like] more of a second- or third-round matchup for sure, and we know that we're going to have a battle.”
“We know they're a great team and they beat us more this year than we beat them, so we really have to put our best game together every night.”